Everything You Need to Know About the Cappadocian Fathers

The three Cappadocian fathers are Basil the Great (329-379), his brother Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) and his friend Gregory of Nazianzus (330-389). Basil and Gregory of Nyssa lived in the same household where they were heavily influenced in their theology and spirituality by their sister Macrina who consecrated herself to Christ after the departure of the man she was betrothed to. Basil received education in law and rhetoric with his friend Gregory of Nazianzus. Under the influence of Macrina, Basil became an ascetic then joined the ranks of the presbytery before finally becoming bishop of Caesarea in 370 AD. Basil was dedicated to the Nicaean cause, the growth of ministry for the poor and marginalized, and the geographical expansion of his diocese to prevent Arian bishops from rising to influential ecclesial ranks. In the course of the geographic expansion of his diocese, Basil appointed his brother Gregory a bishop over Nyssa where he spent the rest of his life serving before being exiled from the empire.

Gregory of Nyssa, unlike his brother, was a married man, a philosopher, and a mystic. Gregory believed in universal salvation though he was not anathematized with the Origenists in the fifth ecumenical council. Gregory of Nyssa may be described as a man of sorrows as he lived through the death of the most influential figures of his life: his brother Basil and his sister Macrina. 

Gregory of Nazianzus, also known as Gregory the theologian, a title afforded only to him and John the Evangelist in the Oriental Orthodox Churches and to Simeon the New-theologian as well in the Eastern Orthodox Church. After completing his studies with Basil, Gregory sought solitude and became an ascetic. His ascetic life was interrupted by his father, Gregory the elder, who needed assistance in shepherding his flock. As such, Gregory became involved in ecclesial life. He relocated between different dioceses like Nazianzus and Constantinople which was not accepted by other bishops as it opposed the decrees of Nicaea. Gregory accepted bishops’ disapproval who opposed his shifts in jurisdiction and returned to live an ascetic life toward the end of his life. 

Basil, along with Gregory the Theologian, compiled the Philokalia of Origen. Basil composed a treatise On the Human Condition, another titled Six Days of Creation, and a defense of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Gregory of Nyssa composed biographies such as The Life of Moses and The Life of Macrina. He composed a number of theological writings such as The Great Catechism, On the Soul and Resurrection, Against Eunomius, The Creation of Man and On Virginity. Gregory the Theologian is mostly known for his orations and numerous letters. His Five Theological Orations are what earned him the title “Theologian.”